Surprisingly, Ben Platt’s make-up isn’t the worst thing about ‘Dear Evan Hansen’
Christine Hilario | Tuesday, September 14, 2021
After witnessing Ben Platt’s decrepit, foundation-caked face in the first “Dear Evan Hansen” trailer back in May, I immediately checked IMDB to figure out how old all the actors playing teenage characters were. It turned out that Platt isn’t much older than the rest of the cast. There’s just something about how obviously the film is trying to age him down that makes him look like a predator.
Considering how misconceived Platt’s casting seemed in the trailer, I expected the rest of the choices in the film to be of the same vein. After viewing the preview screening at DPAC, I’m not surprised to say that my expectations were spot-on. “Dear Evan Hansen” is the second most ill-conceived movie musical I’ve seen, and the only reason why it isn’t the most ill-conceived is because I saw the “Cats” movie in theaters.
Based on the Tony Award-winning musical of the same name, “Dear Evan Hansen” follows anxious high school senior Evan Hansen, played by an ancient-looking Ben Platt who originated the role on Broadway. Evan is assigned by his therapist to write positive letters to himself, and one of these letters falls into the hands of school outcast Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), the brother of Evan’s longtime crush Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever). Connor commits suicide, and his parents find Evan’s letter and assume they were friends. In order to not disappoint them, Evan proceeds to deceive Connor’s family into thinking they were friends until the lie inevitably comes crashing down around him.
The film was heavily marketed as an uplifting story about self-acceptance and helping others, but the message is undercut by the fact that Evan is a truly awful person. The film frames Evan as some sort of hero advocating for mental health awareness, but the entire time he’s actively tricking a grieving family to become close to them for his own personal gain. He even ends up in a relationship with Zoe because of his deception. Evan doesn’t just passively go along with the family’s assumption that he and Connor were friends; he commissions his sort-of-friend Jared (Nik Dodani) to create fake emails between him and Connor to show to the family.
One of the most preachy, saccharine songs of the film, “You Will Be Found,” is performed by Evan at Connor’s memorial service. Its sentimental message becomes disturbing when you remember that Evan doesn’t know anything about Connor and definitely doesn’t deserve to speak at his memorial. Nevertheless, Evan’s performance gets posted online and starts a movement for mental health awareness — all based on lies. And the audience is supposed to feel uplifted by this. I’m all for flawed main characters, but the film tries to present Evan’s manipulative actions while still framing him as someone who uplifts others and is a true force for good in the world. It just doesn’t work. At the end, there’s an attempt to redeem him, but it’s not enough to justify the harm he’s caused.
All these instances of Evan being the worst are present in the stage musical, but the film tacks on baffling technical choices to this mess of the story. The film has fondness for close-ups, so the audience has the chance to get up close and personal with Ben Platt’s terrible make-up job. In addition to that, director Stephen Chbosky seems to have no idea how to properly stage musical numbers. One of the most egregious examples is during the song “Sincerely, Me,” which features uncomfortably prolonged shots of the actors staring and walking directly into the camera. This musical number also includes some of the worst sound mixing in the movie, where the actors voices are drowned out by the backing track near the end.
This film is only redeemable if you find the songs catchy. Platt’s vocal performance is good, but it’s not enough to make up how out of place he looks. Personally, I have a lot of pent-up rage regarding the musical’s most popular songs, “Waving Through A Window” and “You Will Be Found,” because in high school, I had to watch basically every show choir in Iowa do a middling rendition of them. Suffice it to say, the songs didn’t really do it for me.
If you’re a die hard “Dear Evan Hansen” fan, just stick to the soundtrack or YouTube bootlegs. However, if you have any desire for a musical with more nuanced mental illness representation, I’d recommend checking out “Next to Normal.” While you’re at it, check out “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” because it was robbed at the Tony’s, and I personally blame “Dear Evan Hansen” for that injustice.
Title: “Dear Evan Hansen”
Starring: Ben Platt, Amy Adams, Kaitlyn Dever, Julianne Moore
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Shamrocks: 1 out of 5